The case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti was not about the justice system blaming
them for murdering two people, but rather how the justice system murdered two people and got
away with it. Throughout the trial the public withdrew from their anti-radical thinking to more of
a sympathetic understanding of another human being, no matter their beliefs. World-wide interest
was quickly turned to the ill-fated Sacco and Vanzetti. While the judge and prosecution had
already delivered the verdict in their minds, Sacco and Vanzetti proclaimed and defended their
Before the crime ever took place Sacco worked at the Milford Shoe Factory as an edge
trimmer. Sacco was a hard worker; who supported his wife, Rosa, and his son, Dante. Vanzetti
worked as a fish peddler. In May 1917, both left their jos to go to Mexico and avoid the draft.
Both Sacco and Vanzetti had the same views which were considered radical at the time; therefore
they did not advertise them. Understandably, they feared for their safety as well as their friends
and families who shared the same ideals (Feuerlicht 11). Although some had suspected that they
were of radical ideology, it was not publicaly announced. Having avoided the draft, Sacco and
Vanzetti returned from Mexico. Upon their return, organizations and federal agents started to
On April 15, 1920 there was a payroll robbery of the Slater & Morrill Shoe Company.
Two men were killed and $15,773. 59 missing. These crimes happened in South Braintree
Massachusetts and became known as the Braintree Crimes. There were two people that attacked
and killed the payroll employees, then grabbed the money and took off in the escape car. The
escape car was described as a black Buick with other partners inside. Eyewitnesses claimed that
two of the criminals “looked Italian” (Altman 70). Crimes like this had been common at the time
and had only sparked local interest (D’Attilio).
It was not until Sacco and Vanzetti were in the courtroom facing charges of murder and
robbery, that the Braintree Crimes would become a publicized affair. Sacco and Vanzetti were
arrested on May 5, 1920 for the murders and robberies that took place three weeks earlier. They
both were anarchistic, atheist, draft dodgers, immigrants, and neither could speak English well
(Fabulous 26). This undoubtedly made them an easy target. When questioned they both lied
creating a “consciousness of guilt” in the eyes of the prosecutors and judge (D’Attilio). Another
aspect that did not help Sacco and Vanzetti were their alibis. Although both had an alibi, their
witnesses often could not remember much about the day in question other than they defiantly saw
the defendants. Sacco’s alibi rested on his repeated attempt to get passports to Italy to see his
family. Vanzetti was allegedly selling fish and visiting some friends (Montgomery 142-155,
131-141). Percy Katzmann, the prosecutor, had given both a difficult time with the questioning.
He used their lack of English skills against them and often twisted their words around. Although
Moore, the defendant’s lawyer would object to this, Judge Thayer would allow it to continue and
Judge Thayer was unprofessional by making rude comments during and out of court. He
would refer to Sacco and Vanzetti as “Dagoes” never referring to them as Italians (Feuerlight
202). He would also talk about the case outside of court and brag to others saying “Did you see
what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day? I guess that will hold them for a while.”
(Feuerlight 306). Not only was his behavior questionable, but the fact that he was the judge of the
case was questionable, since he had just sentenced Vanzetti for another case a few weeks prior.
Fortunately for Sacco and Vanzetti, their lawyer was dedicated and fought for their
freedom. Moore raised awareness to the trial worldwide. Supporters protested for Sacco and
Vanzetti’s freedom. After six weeks of trial Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of murder and
robbery. Though they were found guilty, their lawyer still fought for appeals and continued to
spend money on propaganda. Since the anarchist movement had been paying for the trial and all
the spending that Moore was doing, they fired him. Moore was replaced in 1924 by William
Thompson made appeal after appeal, and more and more evidence proving Sacco and
Vanzetti’s innocence surfaced as he fought for an appeal. On November 16, 1925 a man in sitting
in Dedham Jail was given the financial report of the Sacco and Vanzetti case to read, he read it
and wrote a note addressed to the “News Editor Boston American Paper. Boston, Mass.” Two
days later he wrote a similar note to Sacco, who was in the same jail, and had the Deputy Jail
Master, Oliver Curtis, to deliver it to him. After a few minutes Curtis had passed Sacco’s jail cell
and saw him crying in the corner with the note in his hands (Feuerlight 126-127). The note read :
“I hear by confess to being in the South Braintree crime and Sacco and Vanzetti was not said in
crime” – Celestino Madeiros (Russell 279). Thompson was eager to get the confession into a
formal document, but Madeiros needed to wait to see the outcome of a trial. Once it was over he
agreed to sign a confession although his story changed from the first one he told Thompson
The evidence in Sacco and Vanzetti’s favor was counts of perjury by prosecution
witnesses, illegal activities by police and federal authorities, confession to the Braintree Crimes,
and evidence that a notorious gang called the Morelli Gang and Judge Thayer ruled and rejected
on a motion accusing himself of judicial prejudice (D’Attillio).
Upset and tired of the constant let downs the case produced, many supporters held
protest. A supporter of Sacco and Vanzetti, Felix Frankfurter who was a Harvard Law Professor,
wrote an article in protest describing how the trial was a mockery of the American court system
Apparently pressure from people like Frankfurter, and other protesters world wide made
the Governor of Massachusetts second guess his decision to execute Sacco and Vanzetti on
August, 23 1927. So he appointed an advisory committee nick-named the “Lowell Committee”
because the most prominent member was A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University.
The final decision of the committee was that executive clemency was not warranted (D’Attillio).
On August 23, 1927 at 12:11:12 Nicola Sacco entered the execution room, weak from a
thirty day fast which he was forced to end only a few days earlier, he walked to the chair without
assistance. Once he sat down in Italian he said “Long live anarchy,” he then switched to speaking
in English quickly “Farewell, my wife and child and all my friends.” His final words were
“Farewell Mia madder.” Nicola Sacco was pronounced dead at 12:19:02. Vanzetti entered the
execution room at 12:20:38. Upon entering he shook hands with the three guards and Warden
Henry, whom he thanked “for all you have done for me.” He then sat in the chair and looked at
the witnesses and said “I wish to tell you that I am innocent. I never committed any crime, but
sometimes sin. I thank you for everything you have done for me. I am innocent of all crime, not
only thins one, but of all. I am an innocent man” he ended with saying, “I wish to forgive some
people for what they are now doing to me.” Bartolomeo Vanzetti was pronounced dead at
Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent men, who were martyred. They were not killed because
they were honestly thought to be guilty murder or robbery, but because they would not conform
to the ideals of the time. There was to much evidence against their guilt for a conclusion leading
to it. Although there is nothing that the American legal system can do to make-up for such a
horrible mistake, but it can learn from it. Hopefully the very same constitution it defends can be
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McGraw Book Company.1997.
Montgomery, Robert.Sacco-Vanzetti the Murder and the Myth.New York:The
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This Fabulous Century 1920-1930. Alexandra: Time-Life Books, 1969.